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An Open Letter to My College Freshman, Part 3

Dear M****,

I promise this is my last letter dedicated to the academic side of the college equation. I imagine as you read these suggestions, you will think some of them are premature, but I don’t think they are. You don’t need to over plan your four years of college, but you do need to see it as a chapter with a beginning and an end, and you need to know some of the things you want to make sure you do and be open to things you may have never considered. In hindsight, I realize how much I missed out on in college because no one encouraged me to contemplate the numerous classes, activities, and even mindsets that would lead to a well-rounded education. So, I hope that you hold on to these suggestions enough that when opportunities present themselves, you reach out for them, and when you are dwelling in moments of quiet you realize there are additional opportunities worth seeking out.

General education classes are important. I know everyone tries to get these classes out of the way before they even get to college these days, but it is important to be well rounded and take courses out of your comfort area. The idea that a course is worthless because it isn’t in the major you think you want is closeminded. You never know what will pique your interest or how your interests might evolve and change. One of my favorite classes as an undergraduate was my philosophy and religion class. The professor was excellent, and for the first time in my life I was encouraged to dig deep into my understandings of belief and truths. Similarly, my biology class taught me that I had never been trained to think like a scientist, that my memorize and repeat strategy for learning was not going to cut it in this new space. I hope you will endeavor to enjoy these classes and the opportunity to think broadly before it is time to narrow your course of study.

Be openminded. I am confident that you already know this, but it is worth saying anyway: faculty are not here to brainwash anyone. Faculty want you to be openminded and willing to learn about experiences, histories, cultures, and beliefs that are not your own. They want you to be a citizen scholar who understands how important it is to respect everyone—even those who have very different stories than you. Try not to have preconceived notions about courses or faculty members, and embrace the opportunity to learn new things.

Study abroad. Take time your freshman year to learn about your study abroad options, and work with your advisor to ensure that you can build a study abroad opportunity into your schedule. Study abroad classes are offered at all levels of study (from your freshman year to your senior year); they are typically offered as anything from two-week intersessions, to summer sessions, to a full semester abroad. No matter what you decide your goals are following college, study abroad will introduce you to histories and cultures that aren’t your own, and it will provide you with the confidence to travel, embrace the unknown, and communicate with people all over the world.

Join a club. I know you are interested in Greek life, and I am excited for you to explore that part of your college journey. It will provide you with unbelievable opportunities in terms of meeting friends and leadership possibilities. But I would encourage you to join at least one other organization as well. Take some time to learn about various organizations and opportunities to lead on campus—particularly once you are more settled on a major. These types of leadership opportunities will allow you to interact with faculty advisors and create additional friend groups, and they will be important to your professional resume.

Investigate ways to do individualized undergraduate research or participate in internships. Beginning your sophomore year, start looking at ways you can begin to apply what you are learning in your major. Internships and individual undergraduate research projects are important to your next steps, but, more importantly, they allow you to take deep dives into what you are generally interested in doing, learn more about it, have fun, and get recognition for that work. These kinds of opportunities are what graduate and professional schools want to see, and they are what future employers want to see. Plus, did I say they are fun?

I feel a bit preachy with this portion of my letter, and that is not my intent. I genuinely want you to soak in the next four years and to embrace everything college has to offer you. I don’t want you to miss a single opportunity, and I hope that these pieces of advice come back to you as you make your journey and encourage you to take risks and to try and do all of the things that will help you become the person you are meant to be.

I love you,

Your Professor Mom


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